9th May, 2012
The main defense lawyer for Iranian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who is appealing a death sentence, may be facing imminent imprisonment for defending the rights of Iranians, according to Amnesty International.
Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, a prominent human rights activist, had been sentenced in July to a nine-year prison sentence and a 10 year ban on legal practice and teaching, and he learned on 28th April that an appeals court had upheld the sentence. Charges against him included “membership of an association seeking the soft overthrow of the government” and “spreading propaganda against the system through interviews with foreign media,” according to a press statement by Amnesty International.
At press time it was not known whether he had been detained, but he has reportedly said he expected to be imprisoned.
Dadkhah is co-founder of Iran’s Center for Human Rights Defenders (CHRD). The CHRD was forcibly closed in 2008, and though its members have continued to carry out their work, they have faced harassment from authorities and some of them are serving prison sentences in Tehran’s Evin Prison.
An expert on Iran who requested anonymity said that Dadkhah had been Nadarkhani’s main lawyer, but that if he were imprisoned the effect on Nadarkhani’s fate would be unclear.
“What is clear is that this development is not good news,” the source said. “My sense is that the rule of law in Iran is abused, and the decisions of the Iranian courts are unpredictable and at the whim of the authorities. If Nadarkhani is hanged or released, it will not be primarily on the basis of the arguments of a good lawyer, but based on the whim of the authorities.”
As an Islamic republic, Iran views Christians and especially Christian converts as enemies of the state and pawns of the West out to undermine the government.
Most Christians who face charges are not able to afford legal defense. Those who can afford legal counsel have difficulty finding lawyers who are willing to defend them, because of how subversive Christianity is considered by the regime and the repercussions on lawyers.
“Many of the Christians who face court hearings do so without legal representation,” the source said. “Simply by taking on a case of which the government disapproves, a case which challenges the government, would be high risk for a lawyer. Dadkhah’s arrest has been coming for a long time, so it’s not a surprise. The surprise is that he’s been able to practice for such a long time.”
In September 2010, Nadarkhani was sentenced to death after a court of appeals in Rasht, 243 kilometres northwest of Tehran, found him guilty of leaving Islam. He has been in prison since October 2009.
At an appeal hearing in June, the Supreme Court of Iran upheld Nadarkhani’s sentence but asked the court in Rasht to determine if he was a practicing Muslim before his conversion. The court declared that Nadarkhani was not a practicing Muslim before his conversion, but that he was still guilty of apostasy due to his Muslim ancestry.
Nadarkhani’s case had been sent to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei for a decision on his death sentence, but legally the lower court still has the authority to issue an execution order. Khamenei may or may not make a decision, and if the court were to issue an execution order, Khameni would have the authority to block it. His case is essentially on hold.
- DAMARIS KREMIDA, Compass Direct News